Gaming has always had a close relationship with the occult. This is obvious for anyone who has followed our many features on horror, mysticism, and Gnosticism in different media. While occultism in movies and traditional literature allows viewers to peek into other worlds, occultism in gaming thrusts players into these worlds head-on.
In fact, it can be argued that most games are inherently occult. The inner workings of video games, in particular, are obfuscated from the great majority of players and are known only to a handful of specialists in the world. Simultaneously, the act of gaming itself is a form of immersion into alternate realities, each of which has its own defined rules, rotes, and mythologies.
This is highly apparent in the world’s first commercial board game, the Ouija board. As explained by the digital magazine The Culture Trip, the Ouija board was released in the 1890s as a toy with no instructions. It only came with a description saying that it bridges the links “between the known and unknown, the material and immaterial,” — and that it can answer questions about the past, present, and future.
Banking on the heightened interest in spiritualism in the late nineteenth-century, the Ouija board became an overnight sensation. Since then, the marriage between gaming and occultism was sealed. And apart from the Ouija board itself, many board games have elements and mechanics that are comparable to ancient rituals for divining information.
It may not be that obvious at first glance, but once you start looking, occult elements are actually present in practically every genre, type, or medium of gaming. In next-gen video games, players get an authentic sense of what it is like to be inside a reality different from our own.
In the grand thematic variety of online multiplayer games, first-person shooters, and casinos, the web is a literal portal to different universes. The same can be said of new mediums like virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR). And then there are the games whose themes directly tackle the occult.
Classic fantasy — with roots in western esotericism — first entered the mainstream when Gary Gygax created ‘Dungeons & Dragons’ in 1971. It was the first commercially available tabletop role-playing (RPG) system. And for many players, ‘Dungeons & Dragons’ was their introduction not just to the essential mythologies of western fantasy but to the act of world-building and storytelling as well. Around the time of its initial release, ‘Dungeons & Dragons’ obvious associations with occultism even caused a “Satanic panic” in western media.
Little did the world know that ‘Dungeons & Dragons’ was just the start of a cultural wave of interactive occult content. A decade later, ‘Call of Cthulhu’ was released. Based on the occult fantasies of horror writer H.P. Lovecraft, ‘Call of Cthulhu’ with its tales of bedlam and old gods, pulled table top RPG gaming even deeper into esoteric studies.
Throughout video gaming history, the occult themes are even more overt. In the ’80s, ‘Super Mario’ and ‘Double Dragon’ introduced young generations to basic supernatural elements and fantasy.
Around the late ’80s and early ’90s, text adventures like ‘Dracula’ and ‘Mist’ put players in the shoes of seekers. Demonology became a common theme as well, by way of games like ‘Doom’, ‘Heretic’, and ‘Hexen’. Meanwhile, survival and action-horror games like ‘Silent Hill’ and ‘Resident Evil’ paved the way for supernatural horror to go mainstream in the last two decades. And through modern VR horror games like ‘The Exorcist’, ‘Resident Evil 7’, and ‘Dreadhalls’, near-total immersion into strange worlds has become possible.
Today, some of the most prolific games are overtly centred around occult themes. In the virtual worlds of ‘The Witcher’, ‘Bloodborne’, and ‘Dark Souls’, players perform rituals based on real esoteric traditions. In online gaming, the same can be said of ‘World of Warcraft’ and ‘League of Legends’, which deeply involve spell-casting and controlling elemental forces.
This can be observed even in online casinos — which has become a very lucrative industry. European gaming platform Tuxslots showcases games like ‘Day of the Dead’, ‘Ghost Rider’, and ‘Magic Portals’ which reveal the extent to which occultism thrives in contemporary gaming. And with the inherent involvement of risk in online casinos, these games are also keeping ancient rites of sacrifice alive in the digital realm.
Accessible practically through any web-connected device, online games, in particular, have been highly instrumental in keeping modern players immersed in occultism.
For better or worse, the evolution of occultism in gaming has been rapid and encompassing. From retro video arcades and console games to next-gen titles, VR, and online gaming, magick is alive and well in the modern world. And in the future, there is bound to be even more digital portals and pocket universes for seekers to explore.